Romanticism and Modernism as Strange Bedfellows: A Fresh Look at Jack Kerouac's On the Road

12240 Words Oct 9th, 2014 49 Pages
Romanticism and Modernism as Strange Bedfellows: A Fresh Look of Jack Kerouac’s
On the Road Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven! O time
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law and statute, took at once
The attraction of a Country in Romance! The Prelude—William Wordsworth
(Come in under the shadow of this rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening striding to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. The Waste Land—T. S. Eliot On 2 April 1951, in a loft in New York City, Jack Kerouac fed 120 feet of Japanese drawing paper into his typewriter, and for the
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. . he created a new symbol of flaming American youth, the American hero of the Beat Generation” (33). This same “flaming hero” was found in other facets of American culture, more specifically in American cinema, with the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean. However, even Moriarty’s flame would flicker at the conclusion of the novel where he is depicted as a gaunt figure in “a motheaten overcoat” (306) without a car, walking alone in the frigid New York night.
The next subject is the west, the American symbol of autonomy and freedom. The west and its wild, unbridled spirit have been celebrated as an American utopia in literature, lore, song and cinema. Paradise states early on “the stars seemed to get brighter the more we climbed the High Plains. We were in Wyoming. Flat on my back, I stared straight up at the magnificent firmament, glorying in the time I was making” (30). Even the popular music of the time focused on the romantic concept of moving west. In his essay, “Free Ways and Straight Roads,” Lars Larsen notes how in the late 1940s, “Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version of Bobby Troupe’s ‘Route 66’ helped redefine Steinbeck’s grim migrant road as a place of ‘kicks’” (37). However, the west was not exactly the west of Paradise’s dreams. Not only is Sal disillusioned by the mass commercialism of a Wild West festival, but he spends two weeks in a migrant camp in California in abject poverty living on fresh picked grapes before fleeing
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